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The Wit, Whimsey, Wonder, Weirdness and Wisdom of Palindromes

As you know from Summer's Lie, Jane, Maggie and I love palindromes. For Jane especially, they provide a sense of both whimsy and order in a confusing world.

A palindrome, as you know, is a word, number, sentence, or verse that reads the same backward or forward. We (Jane, Maggie and I) are addicted to word and sentence palindromes.

The urge to palindrate (who even knew that was a verb?) is very ancient! ('Palindromic' is the adjective, and we are unashamed to admit the adverb 'palindromically' into our grammatical lexicon.)

The term derives from the Greek palin dromo (“running back again”).The Greek phrase alluded to the backward movement of the crab. Palindromes date back to about 70 CE, when they were first found as a grafitto buried in ash at Herculaneum.

Palindromes occur in other ancient languages, too — including Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. For example:

The Hebrew palindrome, "We explained the glutton who is in the honey was burned and incinerated", (פרשנו רעבתן שבדבש נתבער ונשרף; perashnu: ra`avtan shebad'vash nitba`er venisraf), is credited to Abraham Ben Ezra and refers to the halachic question as to whether a fly landing in honey makes the honey treif (non-kosher).

The palindromic Latin riddle "In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni" ("we go in a circle at night and are consumed by fire") describes the behavior of moths.

Byzantine Greeks often inscribed the palindrome, "Wash [thy] sins, not only [thy] face" ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ ("Nips on anomemata me monan ops in"), attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus on baptismal fonts; most notably in the basilica of Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople.

As well as word palindromes, there are palindromes in math, science and music.

Palindromic strands of DNA can be found in molecular biology (If you remember, in Summer's Lie David tries to explain this to Jane), and mathematicians may look for palindromic numbers that have unique properties.

Classical, experimental, and humorist composers have integrated musical palindromes into their work, including Joseph Haydn and Weird Al Yankovic. Hadyn's Symphony No. 47 in G Major was nicknamed "The Palindrome" since the "Minuetto al Roverso" and the Trio are both written so that the second part of each piece is the same as the first, only backwards.

And there are many palindromic record album titles like "If I had a hifi" (Spirit Gum), "Drawn inward" (Evan Parker), "Ten animals I slam in a net" (the Kabeedies) and "So many dynamos" (Milk).

Question: Who is king or queen of palindromes? Name now one man!

Answer: Palindromes belong to all of us. So enjoy.


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